I'm Not SamBy Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee (Sinister Grin Press; 2012)

This book suffers somewhat from being a short story stretched to novella length (with all the noticeable flaws that entails) and the fact that its premise isn’t terribly original (see the Nicole Kidman film BIRTH and the Keigo Higashino novel NOAKO), yet no Jack Ketchum effort is entirely unworthy, including I’M NOT SAM. It was written with filmmaker Lucky McKee, who previously collaborated with Ketchum on 2011’s THE WOMAN. I don’t know the extent of McKee’s contributions, but can say that Ketchum’s unmistakable style and voice are evident in the superbly economic prose and horrific worldview.

Related in excessively drawn-out fashion (a consequence of the fact that, as mentioned above, the book began as a short story), I’M NOT SAM is far more subdued overall than we’ve come to expect from either Ketchum or McKee. It’s divided into two sections that in a four page introduction Ketchum asks we treat as interconnected pieces of music, and take some time between reading them. Okay…

“I’m Not Sam,” the first of the two sections, is told from the point of view of the potty-mouthed Patrick, a comic book artist who lives with his surgeon wife Samantha and cat Zoey. One night after screwing his wife, Patrick awakens to find that Sam has inexplicably taken to acting like a child, and now answers to the name Lily. Apparently Sam has some form of personality-altering amnesia that Patrick has no choice but to deal with. The unfortunate thing is that he still lusts after his wife, which given her new childlike persona feels perverse. Nonetheless, Patrick can’t help but act on his desires, which provides the “I’m Not Sam” section of the book with its blunt conclusion. The final lines aren’t as shocking as Ketchum and McKee appear to have intended–not quite the “single punch to the gut” Ketchum promises in the introduction–but are still fairly impacting.

“I’m Not Lily” is the book’s concluding section. Much shorter than the first, it’s told from the point of view of Samantha, who’s now herself once again and attempting to figure out what occurred over the past two and a half weeks. As with “I’m Not Sam,” it ends with something of a shock, but a far deeper and more measured one that involves Patrick, Sam and Zoey, and closes out “I’m Not Lily,” and the book as a whole, on a satisfying note.